The Story Of The Snow Leopard – 1994
I began outdoor sports near the end of 1988, and I continued at it fast and productively throughout my academic life. I climbed mountains, entered caves, dived into seas, flew down mountains and wandered about part of Turkey, in the meantime I also published a magazine on outdoor sports. Four years have past rapidly and I graduated from the Faculty of Business of the Bilkent University in june 1992, although there were a lot of things that I wanted to do yet.
The chats that I had with Dimitri Korotkin, a guest professor working in my school who was a member of Leningrad University’s Mountaineering Club and with whom I have met just a short time before I graduated, has opened a new, foreign, scaring but equally attractive door in front of my eyes: A climb to the giant pyramid of Khan-Tengri of 7010 m., which is accepted to be one of the most beautiful mountains in the world…
I didn’t even consider its uncertainty, which is the scaring aspect of the it, nothing would stop me, not even the fact that the highest mountain which I have climbed in Turkey was Kackar and Erciyes just a little higher than 3900 m., that I didn’t know how my metabolizm would react to high altitude, and that I didn’t have the slightest idea about high altitude mountaineering except that it is extremely cold and there is a scarcity of oxygen up there. I would join this climb alone if I had to. There were about eight mountaineers then who were considering to come with me, but as the departure day approached, they were all hindered by excuses one by one, and at last I was left alone.
It had not even been twenty or twentyfive days yet after my commencement, when I got on board the airplane flying to Alma-Ata with the winter mountaineering equipment that I had gathered from here and there and a bagfull of chocolates and vitamins with me. Since that moment, the only thing that I had in my mind was Khan-Tengri.
Our relation with my girl friend which ceased to continue, my getting on the airplane demoralized, my failure of meeting the men who were supposed to come to meet me in Alma-Ata, my standing there in despair with a luggage of 55 kg. with me, spending the night in the waiting room, my tears, my inability of comprehending anybody or anything, loneliness and uncertainty, not beeing able to do anything but waiting, unending hours and everything returning back to normal by the expected meeting taking place with a delay of one day. The Khan-Tengri expedition have already been too stressful for me even before it started. Then Alma-Ata, Biskek, Prjevalsky, a travel of two days by inconvenient buses in a sweltering heat and Terskey Ala-Tau mountains. The acclimatization and conditioning climbs that we kept doing in the region for twenty days: Ugluwaya, which is 3900 m. high, Peak Studentof, 4202 m. high, the magnificient travers of Brigandina-Albatros, 4800 m. and 4740 m. high and the Cigit, 5170 m. high.
And at last our arrival at Tien-Shan mountains by a helicopter, our main camp on the South Inalcek glacier at 4000 m. My amazement at the majesty of the mountains, the acclimatization climb that we started right away and my first sight of the bewildering Khan-Tengri peak, our climb to 5800 m. in order to dig out the snow caves, and our return to the main camp. The Ukrainien mountaineer, whose dead body has just been brought down, the first incident of death that I have ever seen on the mountains, and my wish that it becomes the last one, which never comes true.
The surprize that had been waiting for me at the main camp, my encounter with Apo (Kara) from Ankara and Ufuk’s (Özgöz) presence on the same mountain. Unlucky climbing attempts and taking my term.
And the climb: Khan-Tengri, strenuous, cold, high, my biggest struggle against myself, my crampon which was broken at 6400 m., my continuation at climbing after I tied it up with strings and wires, in spite of all the warnings given me by the Russians, and at last the summit, feeling exhaustion and pain, together with happiness and success at the same time. Starting for the descend and my crampon which came to pieces completely this time at about 6800, our extraordinary effort to gather our tent, which had burst at 6400 m. The strenous 1000 metres that I climbed down with just one crampon. Arrival at the main camp unable to feel my toes, and fearing to loose them, beeing unable to walk for the next two weeks because of the pain and beeing unable to feel if my toes are still intact for the next one and a half months.
But achieving to be the first Turkish mountaineer to climb Khan-Tengri and bringing the third 7000 m. record to Turkey, after an interval of 7 years, and my being elected as the most successful montaineer of Turkey in 1992. They were all extraordinary memories, and they have been saved in my memory as the stories for grandchildren. And the Snow Leopard: The powerfull animal of the Pamirs and Tien-Shan mountains which is called “Snejniy Bars” in Russian. A golden ice-axe badge with an inscription on it reading “the conquerer of the highest mountains in the USSR”, and the name of this animal which is the symbol of power and freedom, is given as a reward to the mountaineers, who have climbed to all five of the 7000 m. mountains in USSR. Russians have a mountaineering history of hundred and fifty years. The Russian Mountaineering Federation has recorded down all of the climbs, beginning from the first high altitude climbs (Peak Lenin) in 1928, untill 1991. The idea of Snow Leopard has first been suggested by Ratzik in 1956. In those years, Englishmen had given the title “Rock Tiger” to a very powerfull Russian rock climber whose name was Mikhail Hergiani, being inspired from this, Ratzik, who was a friend of Hergiani, said “let’s give the title “Snejniy Bar” (Snow Leopard) to those mountaineers who completes climbing to all four 7000 m. in the recent USSR”, and the idea was accepted by the Mountaineering Federation. Khan-Tengri was excluded from this, which was accepted to be 6995 m. high then. The mountaineer Ivanov from Moscov, was the first man to gain this title, who completed climbing to all four of the 7000 m.s in 1961. In 1966 three persons, and in 1968 one person completed all of the four climbs and then came the rest. Climbing Pobeda was excluded from the Snow Leopard title from time to time, because of the political problems with China. Occasionally Khan-Tengri was included. The title was given sometimes to the mountaineers who have climbed to four and sometimes to five mountains of 7000 m., but beginning from 1989, it is only being given to five achievements of 7000 m. So far, about 214 mountaineers in the world, including two western mountaineers, have completed all five climbs.
Hermann Hesse has written a very nice book with a title of “Journey To The East”. Hesse, who is a member of a very secret ancient society whose name has not been declared in the book, tells about a journey to east, which he and the other distinguished members of this society make in one period of their life, leaving everything behind. However, those who will make this journey, are supposed to have a reason, each of them join this journey for a cause, depending on their past experiences and expectations. Some of them set out for this long and strenuous journey in order to find the princess they have imagined, some to find a very old treasure, and some to find the manuscripts of a legendary book.
In ancient times, when fighters drank a toast to an event, they presented some of their drink to the gods, by respectfully pouring it onto the ground, over the other side of their glasses, which has not been stained by their lips. Two years ago, when I was sitting dead tired at the bottom of the wall of Khan Tengri, with my numb toes which I was unable to feel, I thanked God for being able to climb that pyramid, and I shared my humble tea with Him, over that side of my glass which had not been stained. And in that day, at my age of twenty four, I promised myself to come back again to these mountains until I find the Snow Leopard. So far, I have been searching this powerfull and free animal of the mountains at high altitudes.
“I am a traveler and a mountain climber” he was telling his own heart ”I don’t like plains, obviously I can not sit still for a long time. No matter what happens to me as a fate or as a life experience, there is a journey, a mountain climbing in it; after all a person lives only himself.”
In february 1993, I went to the Caucasis, for the first Turkish winter-climb of Elbruz mountain, which has two peaks, each 5642 m. and 5621 m. high. There was an unusual amount of snow and cold and a tremendous risk of avalanche. I could receive my backpack four days later because of the Russian lagguage trading, also my ice-axe was stolen. However, thanks to this delay, we just avoided a tremendous avalanche that had falled on the hotel in which we were supposed to stay, and had killed four persons. We strained at the climb in an extremely bad weather with Nikolay Totmiyanin, who is one of the best mountaineers of the Russians and who was one of the team which climbed to the southern wall of Lhotze, 8416 m. high. Nikolay who had climbed Elbruz eight times before, had never climbed in such a bad weather. The wind blowing so hard that it almost knocked us down, ice as hard as glass, my almost frozen nose, my numb fingers and the most tremendous cold that I have experienced in my life. We are at 5300 m., our first rest stop in 6 hours and a cup of tea for each of us, my beard, moustache, nose and the string of my anorak have all been frozen together and have sticked to each other. Nikolay asks me twice, if I want to return back or not. We must certainly return back, but no, I can not decide whether to return when we are so close. We strain at the climb and at last reach the eastern peak 5621 m. high, this becomes the second of a total of three successfull climbs achieved in the winter of ‘93. I am totaly worn out with fatique, the next stage of my condition should be fainting, so I wonder how I can still keep standing up. On the way down, we encounter the blood staines of the unlucky mountaineer from Vilnius, who fell from 4800 m. and slid down for hundreds of meters two days ago, traversing this point by securing it with an ice-screw, we keep climbing down clumsily in heavy fog, until we reach 3800 m. In the next day, everything returns back to normal, except my exhaustion my only problem is the poor condition of my nose, but that one too recovers in ten days.
When I reconsider it on reaching Terskol, my stubbornness scares myself for the first time in my life, we should have returned back at 5300 m… Still, I have achieved to make the highest winter climb of Turkey.
Like horses climbing up to mountains, He wanted to live the world out of his breath, Like a falcon, he put up on the clouds his tent, The nomad’s tent of foggy passions.
Out of Breath (Ahmet Telli)
In July 1993, we are flying to Alma-Ata with a group of four persons, for the Lenin climb, 7134 m. high. Trying to forget E. who is still on my mind and who is the greatest dissapointment of my life, I am boarding the airplane as if I am escaping from Turkey. Because of the poor organization, it took us four days to travel the distance of 1100 km. between Alma-Ata and Acıktas, in a sweltering heat. This unnecessary trip exhaust us a lot, even before the climb has started. At the end of a series of mishaps, we arrive at Acıktas and start for climbing. Fortunately, since that moment everything goes well except the meals. The acclimatization climb up to 5800 m. and then the real climb without any problemsl. On the long final phase between the last camp at 5950 and 7134 m., which we started out with eighteen persons at 5950 m., I am climbing almost solo, and I am leading and leaving all the tracks until 7000 m. When I fail to find the summit because of the weather which has changed for the worse on the summit plato, I wait for the other mountaineers coming from behind. The nearest group to me is a Russian team of three mountaineers following me fifteen minutes behind, so I reach the summit with them. Before I came here, back in Istanbul, I regularly cycled uphill Bebek and Kucuk Bebek slopes twice a day, in a sweltering hot weather which helps me a lot, since I display a performance at Lenin that surprizes even myself. Relying on my good performance, I decide to try Pobeda this year, although I had left it for 1994 previously. Thus the Lenin team returns back, and I arrive at karkara, travelling across the one thousand and so and so kilometers again, once again I am all alone on the mountains. And Pobeda, the northernmost 7000 m. peak of the world, an extremely hazardous mountain on which eighty eight mountaineers have lost their lives so far, a hell of a mountain 7439 m. high. Everybody was surprized when I arrived at Karkara alone, to try Pobeda in one of the worst seasons of Tien-Shan. A Russian tries to discourage me, telling me with his poor accent of english that nobody has climbed to Pobeda in this season yet.
– Pobeda is strong, one must know himself.
– I know myself, I don’t know about the weather, I will just try.
I come across with my old friend Nikolay in Tien-Shan, we chat away for a long time, he complains of the bad weather too, he made mention of a risk of avalanche. Then I find a group for climbing Pobeda, and we start for climbing in the best available days of the weather which has been bad through out all of that season. We are in a good condition, we have a good acclimatization, the weather is fine, we first reach the 1st camp with a team of five persons, in the next day we ascend to the 3. camp at 5800 m., and in the following day we climb up to the 6980 m. in bad weather conditions. While I am progressing dead tired towards the 5. camp about 6800 meters in a strong wind and blizzard, I encounter Gleb Sokolov, the famous speed climber of the Russians, returning back from his solo climb to the summit, with his almost frozen face and eyes. He encourages me with with all his good intentions and pretty look, saying “little little to go”. So that, when ever I become worn out of fatique, I always keep repeating these words to myself.
I arrive at the 5. camp dead tired, in spite of our fast climb, the weather is changing for the worse unfortunately, we keep waiting for a good weather for two nights up there, but it seems as if it will not be possible this year, at last the main camp stops the climb and calls the group back. Since it kept snowing continuously for two days, the snowfall creates a big hazard of avalanche, however we have to descend anyway, the snow keeps increasing. We start descending, but at 6800 m. the snow below us cracks and slides down for half a meter. For the first time, I am so helpless and close to death, there is nothing else I can do but wish that the cracked snow does not slide. After a short discussion in blizzard, we decide to ascend back again, and we climb furiously trying not to spoil the tracks. After resting in the snow cave a little , we start descending along a longer route together with the Moscow group, who lost one of their friends at the 7000 m. plato three days ago, and climb down to 5800 m., and down to the main camp at the following night. Pobeda only permits twelve mountaineers this year, and unfortunately I am not one of them. We will be meeting with it again, we couldn’t make good friends with it yet. I think about the Spanish mountaineer Ignio, with whom I ate for five or six days in the Alma-Ata – Istanbul airplane, the Kazak mountaineer Galim who offered me kebap and kampot after we returned back from Pobeda, the twelve lucky mountaineers of the season, whose faces I did not even see. In the summer of ‘93, Tien-Shan mountains did not forgive those who underestimated them.
At the end of 1993, I join the army for my military service, but when its period is extended, all of my plans get disorganized. Then, after a series of correspondence between the Mountaineering Federation, the Chief of Staff of Turkish Navy and the General Staff of Turkish Army, I am granted a special permission for the summer of 1994. I am grateful to the Chief of Staff of Turkish Navy and the General Staff of Turkish Army for this permission. Also E. enters somehow into my life again, but just for a short time…
At the airport, while I am biding farewell to my friends who have come to accompany me on the start of my travel, their facial expressions change at once when I ask them to forgive my soul if I die. They know too that I was unable to make enough training this winter.
– Dont talk nonsense, you know yourself, dont push yourself too hard.
– I know myself, but it ‘s a mountain after all, who knows what happens.
– Forget about Pobeda, don’t strain yourself so much this year.
Thus I board the airplane leaving for Taskent on the beginning of July, and I ascend from 0 to 4200 m. in twelve hours. It took us two hours by a helicopter to travel from Taskent to our camp that we are going to set up near the Moskowina glacier. Such an increase in altitude in such a short time and the transportation of the whole camp, shakes all of us a little bit. Three days later, we start for the acclimatization climb. Our destination is the Peak Of Four, 6299 m, high. I almost ascend to 6300 m., six days after I leave 0 m. We perform the first climb of this mountain in this season, struggling with the long and steep glacier of it. Now we are ready for the Korjenevskoy, 7105 m. high.
We spend the next two days, resting at the main camp and making the final adjustments for the climb to Korjenevskoy. When the day comes, we proceed to the first camp at 5100 m. in the afternoon. My lenses keep irritating my eyes because of the dust that gets into them on the trail which runs on soil and a rocky terrain. In the second day, we ascend to the 2nd camp along a route proceeding as a mixture of snow and ice, occasionaly climbing with a rope connecting us to each other in order to protect us from the cracks in the glacier. The weather is extremely warm and nice, the snow condition is very convenient, however, the inadequate amount of snow increases the difficulty of the third day’s travers between 5800 and 6100 m. Since the route is completely covered with ice, we detour down a little bit. The main route has a permanent line, but since we are making the first climb of the year, we can not rely on the old ropes. After the travers at 6100 m., we enter the main ridge system that leads to the peak of Korjenevskoy and here we keep ascending for another 200 m. on a route mixed with rock-ice-snow, and set up our 3rd camp on the vast and flat ground at 6300 m. In the last day, we keep moving with two groups of three persons each on the ridge which consists of a lot of hills with ups and downs of various gradients. At about 6500 m. Sergey gets sick, and his group is forced to slow down a lot. After advancing some more, they return back. Nikolay, me and Ilya continue, but at about 6900 m. Ilya’s speed decreases a lot and I have to keep pulling him with the rope that connects him to me. At last, in order not to decrease our speed any more, he informs Nikolay and detaches himself from the rope, the rest of the route is pretty secure anyway. We keep on going quickly with Nikolay. 50 m away from the summit, Nikolay slows down, and he says “Come on, you lead the climb. I have already climbed here four times”. I increase my already fast speed, and reach 7105 m. in a short time. This climb becomes the first Turkish climb to Korjenevskoy, it fills my heart with an indescribable enthusiasm and happiness. Although it is my third 7000 m. summit, the altitude gives me a tremendous pleasure. During my climb to my two previous summits, the weather was bad, so we could stay on them just for a short time. This time we spend about twenty minutes, we watch the magnificient landscape and take photographs. In the far distance, I can see the 7134 m. high Lenin peak, with which we made friends last year. I send my greetings to it. Today, once more I realize that I love mountains very much, and I will keep climbing as long as I can carry my backpack.
In the meantime, Ilya too reaches the summit dead tired. We start for descending altogether. We keep Ilya in between us, he is very tired, therefore he climbs down clumsily but since he is tied to us, we keep checking him. On the way down, we catch with the other group too and leaving Ilya with them, we reach our camp at 6300 m., together again with Nikolay. While we are preparing the meal, the other mountaineers enter the tent too.
In the next day, we descend to the main camp and when we taste Ilya’s wonderful meals and take a bath in the sauna, we rest from our fatique. We rest at the main camp for three days. In the meantime, while we were heading for Korjenevskoy, the team consisting of two Russians and two Frenchmen, which set out for Communism, have reached the summit in a wonderfull weather and have returned back to the main camp. We celebrate our climbs altogether.
On the day which we have planned to start for our climb to Communism, we wake up at 04:00 in the morning and set out early in order to pass through the dangerous seracs securely. With a group consisting of four persons, we first walk accross the Walter glacier, than the seracs and rocks, and climb up to the ridge, 5100 m. high in five hours. This is supposed to be the first camp normaly, we take a break here to eat and then continue climbing. Two hours later, we are at 5700 m.
Meanwhile, the weather which have been fine for a long time, changes for the worse at last, from now on we will be experiencing a bad weather for three days. Above 5700 m., heavy laden backpacks start giving us a hard time, now everybody is moving on with his own speed. Nikolay is leading, and I am fifty meters behind him, Valeri and Ilya are falling behind. Thus, abut eleven hours after we set out, we reach to the top of the 6200 m. hill, which is likened unto woman breasts by the Russians. Starting from here, we descend down for 400 m. in a bad weather to reach the Great Pamirs Firn, the highest plato of the world. Infact it has been a very tiresome day. We begin setting up the camp and preparing the meal right away with Nikolay. 40 minutes later, Valeri reaches the camp, too. Since Ilya is late, we are concerned about him a little bit, but fortunately, he arrives at the plato dead tired an hour and a half later.
It keeps snowing through out the whole night. In the next day, we cross the plato and start climbing towards Peak Dusanbe. Until we reach 6200 m., we make the way wading through the deep snow sinking up to our knees, then the snow gets solid. Thus we ascend up to 5600 m. in five hours and we set up our camp there. During our daily wireles communication, the main camp warns us for the bad weather. Because of the snow that kept falling continuously for two days, it is rather hard to reach the summit in one step, therefore we carry our camp to 6800 m. in a snowing weather next day. And in the following day, we set out for the summit in high spirits, cheered up by the improving weather.
Completing the rest of the travers in fifty minutes, we come to the point right below the peak of Communism and start climbing the steep glacier in front of us in a clear but extremely windy weather. When we arrive at the ridge, the wind grows stronger. At last, five hours after we set out, we reach 7495 m. with Nikolay. Communism becomes my fourth and the highest peak.
Being unable to loiter too much up there because of the strong wind, we start descending, and we spend the night at 6800 m., we keep on descending in the next day, and we arrive at the main camp in ten hours, wading through the deep snow. Ugur (Uluocak) and Bunyad (Dınc) has arrived from Turkey, we chat away with them for a long time.
After waiting for a helicopter for six days in Moskwina because of political problems between Tacikistan, Ozbekistan and Kırgızıstan, at last I arrive at Taskent. I feel wonderful, and I want to try Pobeda once again. After struggling for finding a bus, a train or an airplane, at last I decide to go to Alma-Ata by plane. But the burocracy in the city exhausts me more than the climb itself. At Alma-Ata, I am staying with the old friend Rinat Haybulin from the Russian National Team, Rinat, me and an American keep chatting away together until 03:00 o’clock in the morning, four hours later I set out with their group and arrive at Akkul near the Chinese boarder. However, the weather is bad again in Tien-Shan, we wait here for two days and when the weather improves for a while, we fly to the Southern Inelcek glacier by a helicopter, taking advantage of it.
Tien-Shan is having a bad season again, the sky is overcast all the time with a continuous snowfall and it seldom gets clear. Nobody has climbed further than the fourth camp at Pobeda yet. And only a few have been able to climb to Khan-Tengri. Last year, there were too much incidents of deaths on these mountains, therefore this year very few mountaineers have come.
I keep waiting for a good weather in the camp for six days, meanwhile I cross the Southern Inalcek glacier twice and visit the Turkish team staying at the camp on the other side, it recoveres my morale to be with them. An extremely powerful team which have been waiting for good weather at the 3rd camp of Pobeda, consisting of two Russians and Kim, a Korean mountaineer who has made three 8000 m. technical route climbing including Everest, give up at last and return back, they have been unable to reach the next camp because of the strong wind. Pobeda is a very different mountain, nobody can climb it unless it gives a permission, I want Pobeda now just because it is Pobeda. I am forced to wait for a total of fifteen days and my passion for trying climbing it keeps increasing every day, but I feel that it will permit me this year, now I am ready for it.
While I am waiting at the glacier, I encounter a lot of people that I have met before during my previous climbs. I pass time by visiting this or that camp everyday.
At last, we start out climbing together with four Russian mountaineers, one day after a very powerful team of seven persons from the city of Tomsk in Siberia have set out on the 10th of August. Two more teams are trying the climb for the Russian championship. My group does not have a very good acclimatization, in the first day we cross the Zvoydocka glacier, then we proceed through the passage called the Pass Dicky (wild) by the Russians which is full of dangerous seracs and traverses, and the fourth camp at 5300 m, meanwhile somebody from the group abandoned the climb because he did not feel so good, but the speed of the group is too slow for me. I climb the ridge between 5300-5800 m. which have taken me two and a half hours to climb last year, in three hours this time by making the way, wading through the deep snow raising up to my knees, then I enter the snow cave and wait for the group. However, since it takes the last men six hours to reach the 3rd camp, we loose our chance to continue to the fourth camp today. Last year, we have missed the fine weather by one day, I don’t want it to happen again. The group does not want to delay me anymore either, we sit down to discuss the circumstances and decide that the best course of action for me is to separate from the group and climb with my own speed. As a matter of fact, those who kept watching us with looking glasses at the main camp, has been astonished to see the distance between us. I do not consider to climb solo, there is another team of five Koreans and a Russian guide in the next higher camp, I am planning to catch them up.
Thus, in the next day, I take food and fuel enough for two days with me and try to reach the snow cave, the 5th camp at Psavela. I am confident since I know the route by my last years experience, but the section between 5800-7000 m. is the most strenuous phase of the climb, it is a long and steep path which keeps on going as a mixture of rock-ice-snow. Since I am climbing solo, I am taking extreme care to minimize the risk and arrive at 5400 m. in three hours, by securing myself holding the permanent lines of dangerous sections with my hands smeared with cumar. Meanwhile, one of the Koreans gets sick and the whole team takes him down and fly him back to Akkul by a helicopter from 5800 m. Thus I do not have a chance to climb with the Koreans any more, besides the Tomsk group is going to try the climb one day before me.
At 6400 m. there are two tents one bursted, left behind by the Koreans, I enter the good one and have a break for one hour to eat, drink tea and rest, then I keep climbing in strong wind. I keep climbing an extremely steep rocky section, securing myself using cumar, there are just a few permanent lines above this point. After 6800 m. the route that I remember has been slightly modified since the Tomsk group has made the way detouring leftwise a little bit, I reach Vaja Psavela by following their tracks. My condition and acclimatization is perfect, the route which took me ten hours last year, takes me only seven hours this time, including a rest stop of one hour. I am the second team/person to reach here this year, however I can not find the snowcave at the location it is supposed to be. While advancing on the ridge in heavy wind and blizzard, I perceived two tents and head for them, but they are empty. I enter one of them and begin waiting. The Tomsk team has left for the climb today, I expect them to return back in the evening since they have not taken their sleeping bags with them, but nobody shows up during the whole night. In the evening the weather changes for the worse, I dine and go to sleep in the tent in wind and blizzard. I am undecided about the next day, either I will try the climb solo or wait for one or two days for my group to arrive, but I don’t want to wait at all. In the next morning while I am sitting in the tent hesitatingly, the Tomsk group shows up at 08:30 o’clock, when the weather changed for the worse, they have dug out a snowcave and have spent a very cold night, they all kept trembling but they are quite well afterall. They have made the first climb of this year, they had two persons including a lady who slowed down their group, they walked for a total of fifteen hours and waited in the snowcave for six hours.
I get some information from them about the route, Sergoya says “The weather is clear, you have advanced fast up to here, go, if you hurry you can go and come back in ten hours”.
The weather is windy but it is clear and sunny, This much wind is quite normal for Pobeda. Deciding to climb and taking just 1.5 litre of tea, a few chocolates, ice axe, anorac and my camera with me, I enter rapidly into the 4 kilometres long traverse at 09.25 o’clock. Since there is nobody else to take care of my security rope, I don’t even wear a security belt. I leave all of my extra equipments to Seryoga, and inorder to help me gain sometime, he digs out a snow cave to hide out my belongings before he starts climbing down.
I know that the wind on the ridge of Pobeda is even stronger than those which blow on 8.000 metre mountains, in order to dilute my blood I swallow an Aspirin plus C in the morning, during the climb I am forced to take three Trentals in order to protect my toes from freezing.
My acclamatization is perfect, I don’t even feel a headache and in a wind blowing from behind I pass over this traverse of ups and downs covered mostly with hard snow and ice and which has taken the lives of many individuals, carefully but quikly in just an hour and twentyfive minutes and I reach to the bottom of the last hill of 400 m. which is called Obelisk by Russians.
Taking a short break here, I drink tea and bolt some meal. Leaving my backpack here and taking just my camera and ice axe with me, I start climbing with all my speed thanks to my my decreased weight. After crossing an easy snow route of 100 metres and climbing the rocks by means of permanent lines from place to place at 50-60 metres, I enter the ridge leading to the summit. But at some places the ridge forms an exact fishbone, so dangerous that at some parts it is only possible to advance as if riding a horse. Even the wind can make a person fly to Chinese or Kirgizistan’s side. Later, I learn that the Russians call here Losh (knife). I pass here very carefully, but it goes on like this for quite a long distance and there is no security atall. If I haven’t seen the track of Tomsk group, I wouldn’t enter here without any security. After the fishbone I pass five or six hills all looking like the summit, Pobeda’s summit proper falls far behind and finally I see the real summit. I approach closer and closer, one step more ,one step more and from now on I am the mountaın, the wind, the snow, the cold, mountain is me, cloud is me, rock is me, ice is me: I AM THE SNOW LEOPARD…
In the strong wind I take a few photographs and start climbing down, I’m in different feelings: In my age of twentysix, I am feeling the happiness of keeping one of the promises that I have given myself, I missed those who I love, I want to share this with them, I do not even feel the cold anymore, and no exhaustion is left either, my mind is at different places, and my body keeps climbing down safely along an extremely dangerous route. I have 3500 m.s more to descend ahead of me. I climb down Obelisk still very carefuly, meanwhile the wind grows stronger, and when I enter the traverse it starts snowing too. Now I am facing the wind casting directly to my face which was blowing from behind on the ascend, struggling against the wind and blizzard, sometimes even thinking that I’m lost, loosing all of my sight from time to time because of extreme brightness but by stubbornly searching for the prints at last I reach Vaja Psavela at 17:55, eight and a half hours after I set out. I haven’t taken a sleeping bag, tent, stove, food or anything with me and I have made my mind to reach the camp in any case. The ridge that took me only one hour and twentyfive minutes to ascend, takes me three hours to return back against the wind, besides I get tonsilin and bronchitis during this three hours.
Kim, the Korean and his very experienced Russian guide Anatoli have managed to climb Vaja Psavela this time, entering their little tent right away, I drink some hot beverages and take a rest. But there is not too much room for me to stay in their tent. I take my belongings out of the ice cave Sergoya had dug out, and start decending. I haven’t even descended 100 m. when I come across with the group of three persons with whom I started climbing together and I enter their tent, I spend the night at 6800 m. It becomes an extremely uncomfortable and sleepless night because of the noise of the wind. Besides, I am unable to sleep because I keep coughing the whole night through, in the following morning I pack up and start decending in strong wind. Meanwhile my hands were almost freezing, while I was trying to tie the mat to the bag, at last I thrust the mat between the cover, and my hands recover after a massage with a wool cloth. As I descent, the Russian team of three persons continue upwards. When I reach 6000 m. approximately, I come across with Sergoya and two mountaineers from Tomsk group, they have spent the night at 6400 m. and were going to main camp today, the others would descend one day after. Good to meet them, I’m rather tired and I was considering to descend just to the 2nd camp in my present condition. We take a break at 5800 m. for eating and start descending after we collect the equipments that have been left by them previously. Losing my way in the meantime on the Zvoydocka glacier because of fog and snow, I descend down to 4000 m. from 6800 m. in a total of thirteen hours. First I visit the camp of the Tomsk group and have a dinner, then I come to my own camp. Those who are in the camp are very surprized and rejoiced in my arrival, the doctor begins treating me with medicine for my throat and lungs.
Although I arrived at the camp last night at 01:00 o’clock, the solo Pobeda climb of the Turkish mountaineer have been heard by everybody. Even before I get out of my sleeping bag in the morning, some of those from our camp showed up to congratulate me. During my visits to the camps around here, everybody congratulated me sincerely. Borodkin(*), the famous montaineers of the Russians who had opened a new route on Pobeda in the year that I was borned, and the mountaineers who want to try Pobeda this year, urged me to tell my climb and listened to me for a long time. They were especialy amazed that I have passed the travers in an hour and twenty five minutes, and that I have completed the summit in four hours and ten minutes, even though I refused to take the chief of our camp decorated me in front of everbody else with his “Rock Tiger” badge of the Georgian mountaineers which has been won by him in a competition. Besides they refused to take any money from me for my stay of eightteen days and my climb.
Later I am informed that, Pobeda had only seven recognized solo climbs. I can hardly beleive that I have just made the eighth solo climb of the most difficult and dangerous 7000 m. peak of the world. Before I left Turkey, I wanted my friends to wish me a lot of luck, and I told them that I canl handle the rest. It seems as if they have wished so much luck that, I achieved the Snow Leopard title with a wonderful final. Pobeda welcomed me this time like an old friend coming from far away, and granted me with the permission to reach its summit, which is given to a very few man.
At the night of 18th, we receive a very sad news, Valodya from the Russian team with which we climbed together for two days, has lost his life by falling down for 200 m., when he was moving on the 7000 m. plato without a security rope. At night everybody gets together, we drink vodka having a toast for Valodya, wishing that it never happens again. Another Russian team which was climbing just then abandoned their own climb, started to descend with the rest two of the team in order to help them climb down and they arrive at the camp two days later.
Thanks God that everything finishes auspiciously and my search of two years ends. I rebember that, when asked “What is a man worth?” Mevlana had answered “He is worth what he is seeking” In fact, two summers ago, when I was sitting at the edge of Khan-Tengri dead tired, with my half frozen fingers and, the day I promised myself that I was going to find the Snow Leopard, I have taken half the distance to this beautiful animal.
The one who seeks, does find what he is seeking, as long as he keeps seeking with knowledge, virtue, determination, courage.
Demokritos, Epikuros and most of the philosophers have told that for a happy and tranquil life, it is necessary to free the soul off fears, especialy the fear of death, they defended that it is inescapable, and being afraid of it and disturbing the soul was meaningless and foolish. Of course they did not tell go climb mountains, but as we do this lets try to adapt it at least. Thus: When one cleans his mind, his soul of all the fears, which is only possible by the confidence that he feels for himself and to the job he is doing which comes from knowledge, only then can he bring into light the highest point of his being, his realization of self as Maslow said. We can see this situation especialy in the outdoor sports which do not have spectators. My approach to mountaineering is similar: I am realizing myself, overcoming my fears with self confidence that comes from my knowledge, experience and capabilities and also with the idea of Karma in the Indian philosophy. From one point of view it is somewhat similar to shifting gear, when you shift up the gear, both of your aspect and approach change, when the confidence coming from knowledge overcomes the fear, the boarders widen.
Four long journeys, that I have made to high mountains in three summers. The far mountains, to some of them which I went without preparation, training, and to some with a perfect training. In three summers, I climbed 7000 m. six times. I made the first Turkish climbs of three of the five highest mountains in the previous USSR.
Baudelaire would say “Tell me what you have seen”. What I have seen: – I have seen Russia, Caucasia, Kazakistan, Kirgizistan, Ozbekistan and Tacikistan, I became acquainted with their people a little bit. I met the legendary mountaineers of Russians, I climbed with some of them.
I saw how easily people can die with a small mistake. I lived through to see how thin the line between life and death is on high mountains, and that luck/God is on the side of those man most of the time, who can join wisdom and courage. I had a chance to know extraordinarily powerful and capable and equaly humble and light hearted individuals, whose calmness and endurance comes not from their bodies but from their will and determination.
I also get to know various people. People who are not created to live at the same place for a long time, who are in a continuous search, who have traveled one fourth of the world, and have tried and experienced too much things for a single lifetime. I traveled for thousands of kilometers by inconvenient vehicles, in sweltering heat at previous Russian steppes, I flew by helicopter over vast mountains for hours, I slept in huge train stations where anything could happen to a men.
I stayed at the main camps at 4000 m. for months, listening to the sounds of avalanches falling around us, as well as I ate kasa and greyca that could be enough for a lifetime, I also tasted from wonderful Russian foods too. I was a guest at the highlands of Kırgiz shephards, tasted their local moods, tried to communicate with them in Turkish a little bit.
After the climb, at 4000 m. ,I did the best thing that can be done for three dollars, and went to sauna to take a bath enough for twenty days.
In a winter, I went to St. Petersburg, which may be is the most beautiful city of the world as a guest of my friends.
And also I learned well to be patient in this land.
After I returned to Turkey, I sent my climb documents with my Russian friends, to the Russian Mountaineering Federation, in order to receive officialy the Snow Leopard title and the badge with the inscription “Conqueror of the highest mountains of USSR” on it and the certificates. Still, I do not like the word conquer, I think that mountains are not conquered, only their summits are climbed to. When I climbed a mountain, I never thought that I overcame, or conquered it. My struggle was always against myself, the mountain was just a spectator, with which we became friends at the end. Some friendships need too much effort, and to make friends with tough mountains, first you have to deserve it.
I struggled for the high mountains of the previous USSR for three years. In 1995, I will try Everest at Himalayas, the highest montain of the world with a height of 8848 m. Let’s see what happens, it all depends if the mountain accepts you, the rest is just a climb…
Hürriyet, 1st-6st October, 1994